Walker Competes with Best in the World at Open Water Nationals
MIROMAR LAKES, Fla. – Swimming among Olympians and World Champions, Kansas freshman Libby Walker gained valuable experience while completing her first-ever 10K at US Open Water Nationals at Miromar Lakes Friday morning.
Racing with one of the fastest fields in the last four years, the Columbia, Missouri product finished a race that adds up to more than six miles in a time of 2:11:09.00, placing in the top-30. Walker’s time was similar to that of teammate Chelsie Miller’s swim in the same event last year (2:11:11.86).
“We had representation there from FINA and they said before the race even started that it was the deepest field in four years since the 2012 Olympics,” Kansas head coach Clark Campbell said. “At one point there was an announcement made that the top-seven times at that particular part of the race had all won a world championship medal in the last two years. So it was a really, really deep field. It was so much faster than last year it was just crazy.”
Ashley Twichell claimed the Open Water Nationals title with a time of 2:01:51.78, out-touching Rachele Bruni by two-tenths of a second (2:01:52.02). Last year’s Open Water Swimmer of the Year, Ana Marcela Cunha (2:01:55.41) rounded out the top-three.
With world-class competition and swimming the longest distance in her career, Walker used Friday’s 28th-place finish as a learning experience to prepare her for future Open Water swims.
“With these events there is such a steep learning curve from this being her first one to her next one,” Campbell said. “She just came in here and absorbed the whole event, and now we’re starting to think about next year. So it was a really good first 10K.”
After a physical start, Walker made her way to the front pack through the first of five laps before the field made a move and she found herself in a group of three competitors and settled in for the next two and half laps. As the pack began to separate, Walker finished the last 45-minutes swimming on her own.
“It was really tiring, I knew it was going to be hard but it was a little harder than I expected and a little longer,” Walker said. “But I’m really glad I did it, I feel very accomplished right now.”
Added Campbell: “There were Olympic, World Champion medalists and national team members, the absolute best in the world were at this event. From that perspective, it was an exceptional performance because this was an Olympic-esque race and she was in the right in the first pack for the first two loops.”
Although exhausted after finishing the race, Walker was already thinking about next year’s contest. Both Campbell and Walker are looking forward to using the experiences gained to improve in Open Water competitions to come.
“I definitely think next year just having the experience will help me a ton, knowing a little more of what to expect and the strategy of it and swimming a better race over all,” Walker said. “You have to get experience and it’s hard to get good experience. So it was good, I’m happy I did it, happy I finished, it’s a great accomplishment.”
Walker will now turn her focus to training for the Olympic Trials in Omaha Nebraska, June 26-July 3. She qualified in the 200-meter butterfly last summer and is one of three current and future Jayhawks who have solidified a spot at Trials.
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